Research Shows Female Retail CEOs (Still) Few and Far Between

The glass ceiling has yet to be shattered in the fashion industry

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Tory Burch is one of the few female CEOs in fashion retail

While some say that women have weathered the recession better than men, at least economically, the disparity between the sexes in high-power positions should give pause to even the least ardent feminists. Of Fortune 500 companies, women make up a pitiful 3.8% of CEOs. But within retailers among the Fortune 500, the number of female CEOs drops to only 1.7%, according to new research by Catalyst, a nonprofit organization focused on women in business.

Why is this so, particularly in an industry like fashion, which is often laser-focused on the female consumer? WWD points to factors that are common to other male-dominated industries as well: a demanding schedule at the highest echelons that may not be conducive to working mothers looking to accommodate family life, historical sexism in the workplace and a legacy of experienced male CEOs who are often an easier choice when boards are looking to fill vacant corner office spots.

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Tory Burch, who is the CEO of her eponymous fashion brand, told WWD, “Women need to start taking a stand and not being scared. The word ‘ambition’ should not be a four-letter word.” Indeed, women who aim for the top are often labeled as aggressive, whereas men in the same position are more likely to be seen as driven and purposeful.

Having a female CEO would seem to be a wise choice in retail particularly, as women are widely reported to make over 80% of the purchasing decisions in a household. But data aside, the entire culture surrounding shopping—from street style blogs and e-commerce to catalogues and advertising campaigns—seems heavily focused on women, women and more women. It would seem that companies that understand how to harness the power of marketing to fellow women should use it to their advantage and ultimately, to pad their own bottom line.

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